You’ve heard the term psychosomatic before—and probably not in too kind of a way. The term is used to refer the mind’s power to conjure up maladies in the body—mental thoughts creating realities felt in the physical. This term equally describes the magic of the placebo affect … the idea that because we think and believe a pill will work, it does—even though it’s only sugar.
But perhaps you have never heard of the opposite term, somatopsychic—the ability of the body to affect the mind.
I had never heard of the term before I saw the title of a new book called Positive Psychology and the Body, the Somatopsychic Side to Flourishing by Kate Hefferon. Senior Lecturer and Program Leader of the MSc in Applied Positive Psychology at the University of East London, Hefferon points out:
There are 7,626 books written about Positive Psychology on amazon.co.uk. Not one of them focuses on the body and its role in the facilitation of well-being. Indeed, within major textbooks…there are only brief references to physical activity, touch, nutrition, etc. which leaves one of the most fundamental pieces of the happiness puzzle missing—the body.
I came across this book as I was researching what was written in the Positive Psychology field about understanding and engaging the body for psychological well-being. As Tal Ben-Shahar and I work on building Yogaspire, a program that links the ancient postures of yoga with the new science of Positive Psychology, I was curious what else was out there. Hefferon is right—there isn’t much.
Positive Psychology and the Body is a good resource for those looking for a primer—and those who are intrigued with the inquiry of the body’s connection in well-being.
As a primer, Hefferon provides an introduction to the positive psychology field, covering the basics such as the concept of flourishing, defining types of happiness, and reviewing neuroplasticity and genetics. Beyond the basics, the intrigue of the book is in the expansion of a body-based approach to include other key physical factors, such as nutrition, sex, trauma, exercise, fashion and adornment (yes, she also covers tattoos and plastic surgery), and my personal favorite—body therapies such as yoga.
The book is laid out in a practical and usable format, providing plenty of measurement tools so the reader can explore the concepts in a very real way by taking an assessment and seeing clearly where they are at present. There are also mock essay questions for the reader to test their own understanding of the material, and reflective prompts generously interspersed to encourage introspection. In many ways, this book doubles as a workbook—taking the reader to an active participant, increasing the likelihood that the work is applied rather than just theoretical.
This expanded view of Positive Psychology is exactly what we aim for at Wholebeing Institute. The SPIRE approach is what students experience during the Certificate in Whole Person Positive Psychology course. This expanded perspective encourages a move from a neck up study to a whole person experience. I’m thrilled to see Hefferon’s contribution to this worthwhile vision, and recommend her book for others interested in the same.
Megan McDonough is CEO of Wholebeing Institute, an educational organization co-founded with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar. WBI is committed to spreading ideas and practices that can help individuals and groups live life to its fullest. Click here for a course listing.